Universal grief in response to the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, CT

The effects of the horror in Connecticut are being felt sharply in this small town in southern Alabama. Photo: (AP Photo)

DOTHAN, Al., December 15, 2012 — The pond is still and serene, everything seems peaceful and quiet. Suddenly the scene is shattered when a rock is thrown and breaks the water. There is a huge splash and water ripples out to the edge of the pond disturbing everything along the way.

The shock and horror of the massacre at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, has rippled 1,163 miles into this little southern community. It feels to all of us as if the tragedy occurred next door. Grief knows no boundaries. Every place of worship in this town will offer prayer for the victims and their families.  

Last night I spent hours with other parents talking, discussing, ranting, crying and grieving. I imagine similar conversations were going on across America, and it will continue again today and for some time into the future. As humans, we are not well equipped to deal with tragedy that goes against the natural order of things. Children are not supposed to die before their parents, for any reason. That’s the design, the chronology we live by. When it doesn’t happen that way we are at a loss how to cope.

It helps a little bit to understand the stages of grief. Psychologists tell us that first we experience denial, a feeling that whatever just happened is impossible, it really didn’t happen. That stage gets replaced with anger. We’re seeing that already with various groups of people looking for a quick fix, a band-aid to put on the gaping wound, someone or something to blame.

There are three more stages — bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance. But it’s too soon to really discuss that. We’re all going to be stuck in the grief and anger stages for a while.

The big picture on this horror is that there are basically three areas we have to come to grips with, three things that will shape the coming debate. The first is the issue of guns and weapons and all the things we think can harm us. The second is the cultural aspect of what happened. Active debate will form around whether this is a violent society, changes in value systems and so on.

The third area for debate will be on the mental state of the shooter, what caused him to do such a heinous act and how we might recognize and prevent others from doing the same thing.

It has been proven scientifically that we are hard-wired to need explanations for things we don’t understand. We were not built for chaos, we need order in our lives. Psychologists also tell us that faith and religion play a big role in helping us deal with things that are so enormous we simply can’t comprehend them. They encourage us to indulge in our faith when we need to find solace, inner peace and sanctuary.

That’s an elaborate way of saying that for now we’re all in God’s hands and all we can really do is pray for the murdered children in Newtown, their parents, families and friends. We also need to pray for guidance in finding intelligent and productive ways to move forward from this, to pull together and not become more divided over political issues. Last but not least, we need to devote significant energy into preventing this from happening again. 

“…Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned…”

William Butler Yeats

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Rick Townley

Rick Townley was a bookseller before switching to electronic publishing with The New York Times, Reuters, Grolier and others. He is the author of a humor book, For Boomers Only – Exploring Life in the New Millennium, a supernatural novel, Stepping Out of Time, and numerous short stories. In addition to contributing to the Washington Times Communities, Rick is working on a fiction series called Stigma and resides in southern Alabama with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Chloe.


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